dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

What’s wrong on the Robe?

Mid-May, the height of the trout season in Mayo. The weather forecast was good and I was really really looking forward to a few hours on the River Robe. The fishing can be challenging in low, clear water but fly life should be plentiful. I double checked my dry fly boxes to make sure I had all the bases covered.

The bridge over the Robe at Crossboyne

I had deliberately picked the stretch of the river around Crossboyne for two reasons. Firstly, the river there holds some very big trout. Secondly, the fly life is usually very reliable. I figured this was a winning combination, the rest was going to be up to my (dubious) skills with rod and line.

For the first time this year I ditched the neoprene waders and plumped for the lightweight chesties instead. I have had these boots for a while  but never worn them so I was was anticipating a more comfortable day. Pulling them on as I perched on the car, I felt far from comfortable. The feet were too tight but I thought they would slacken off once they had been broken in a bit by some walking and wading. Turns out I was wrong about that!

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wind ruffled surface

The bridge pool at Crossboyne looks inviting but I have never had a big fish out of it until late in the evenings. This morning all was quiet on the glass-like surface of this pretty pool. The trees downstream shielded the pool from a gusty south westerly, the only quiet spot on the river today! I waded across the tail of the pool and scrambled up the slippery bank. Once out of the trees the full force of the wind caught me unawares. Ducking back into the vegetation, I commenced operations with a small dry olive. Flicking it up and under the branches was tricky and the small olive sadly stuck on a leafy branch where it remained when the tippet snapped under pressure from me. This small tragedy was repeated often as fly after fly fell victim to my casting deficiencies. The trout were willing to grab the small flies if I could keep them on the surface on short drifts in tumbling water. The only problem was these were all small fish, only a few inches long.

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Trees everywhere! The last resting place for some more of my dries

Leaving the trees behind me I meandered down the edges of the fields, fishing the likely spots near structures and weedbeds. I could make out no signs of a hatch which was very odd. This is a fertile part of the river and upwinged flies usually litter the surface at this time of the year. With no hatch to tempt them up,  the trout were reluctant to show near the top. I had made up my mind that I would stick with dries today, so pushing thoughts of heavily weighted nymphs to the back of my mind I fished on amid a strengthening and variable wind.

5 fish came to hand today but they were all of this stamp

Open fields, dotted with grazing sheep and cattle, bordered the river now. The big drain was in sight (the natural end to this stretch) but a nasty new electric fence barred any further progress. With no flies and a difficult wind I decided to turn back and head for the fast pool above the bridge.

The calf followed me around for a while until mum came to fetch him!

Another trout took the dry spider I had floated over him and it turned out he would be the last one of the day. I picked up the remains of a beautiful spotted blue egg which caught my eye. It may have been left over from a successful hatching but it’s more likely that the egg was robbed by the crows.

Re-crossing the river I ducked under the bridge, getting a soaking from the mains water pipe which is leaking badly from a joint. The lively pool immediately above the bridge is home to some fine trout but once again there was no sign of life. By now I had taken enough disappointment so I called it a day and returned to the car. The lack of insect life is a huge problem, one that does not bode well for the future. I have been blaming the cold weather this spring for the poor (non-existent) hatches but maybe there are more sinister reasons. The use of pesticides in Ireland is endemic. Farmers and other land owners habitually spray pesticides and herbicides in huge quantities. Perhaps this is part of the problem?

Lovely water, pity there were no insects hatching

I will give the Robe a rest now until next month when (hopefully) the evening falls of spinners will liven up the fishing.

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing

A Sunday afternoon

Sullen, that’s the only way I can describe the weather this morning. No wind to speak of and heavy clouds above. The good news is that it was still reasonably warm, raising hopes there would be a hatch of ephemerids. Off to the Robe!

Water levels had dropped since my last visit but the water was still carrying some colour. Even as I tackled up on the bank a couple of olives fluttered past. Unfortunately almost as soon as I started casting the heavens opened and a cold wind blew straight upstream into my face. Shelter, in the shape of a convenient gorse bush, kept me dry until the squall petered out and fishing could resume.

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The wind dissipated completely and I quickly began to catch smallish brownies. One oddity this afternoon was the number of fish which simply ‘fell off’ after a few seconds contact. I didn’t keep a tally but I suppose there must have been a dozen or so which threw the hook with remarkable ease.

I took a snap of one fish but to be honest they were all minute wee fellas. Eventually I hooked a slightly better fish and brought him safely to hand. A photograph beckoned so I tried to fish the camera out of my chest pocket. It didn’t want to come out so I carefully laid the trout on the bank, some 10 or 12 feet from the edge of the river while I got the camera out of the pocket and then free from the bag it is in. Before I could complete this manoeuvre the trout gave a kick, squirmed down the bank and rolled back into the river with a resounding ‘PLOP’. It started to rain again………………..

Some horses decided to cheer me up by running up at me then turning away at the last minute. I guess they found it amusing but it didn’t do much for my humour!

Up until now I had been fishing with nymphs, keeping them as close to the river bed as possible. While this was certainly working the size of the fish was a disappointment. I switched to the dry fly but despite fishing some likely looking pools I came up empty handed with the floater. I was working my way upstream when the heavens opened again and I figured it was time to call it a day.

While tramping along the edge of the river I spotted the remains of a crayfish in the grass. Something had enjoyed a good dinner at the expense of this particular crustacean. A heron or mink were the most likely culprits..

By three o’clock I was back at the car and my Sunday on the river was over. A total of 13 small brownies had come to hand so I can’t complain really. It would just have been nice to land one good one.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Monday, bloody Monday

The morning slipped away from me but by 11.30 I was behind the wheel and heading off to spend a few hours trout fishing on the River Robe. All the rivers around here are high and this usually improves the fishing on the Robe, so hopes were high as the old green VW rumbled down the road filled with rods and reels. The target area was going to be the fast water below the bridge at Hollymount. I didn’t know it then, but this was going to be an eventful day.

The road bridge at Hollymount, looking upstream

As it turned out, the river level was even higher than I had presumed, meaning the three pools below the road bridge were just too fast for easy fishing. I slung heavy nymphs into the flow but even the tungstens were swept away quickly in the rush of water.

There was no sign of any fly life down here but a pair of swallows showed up, the first I had seen this year. By the time I had reached the lower pool I had made up my mind to try upstream of the bridge where the flow was much more friendly. That was when it all started to go pear-shaped on me.

To access the water above the road bridge you can either wade under the bridge (crossing a number of barbed wire fences in the process) or cross the road, hop a stone wall and head across a field. I always choose the latter option as the barbed wire below the bridge is a proper pain in the b__t. This time I placed my rod over the wall and as I drew my hand away there was a sharp pain in one of my fingers. The middle dropper had sunk into the flesh. I swore!

I poked about at the fly to establish that, yes, it was well past the barb. For those of you who have never had to deal with this scenario here is how you extract a barbed hook from your flesh. Only try this in places you can access easily and NEVER if the hook is in a sensitive area (such as around your eyes). If in doubt, get yourself to a hospital where they will have it out in no time. So, here I was with a size 14 spider stuck in the middle finger of my left hand. Pulling it out is not going to work as the barb just digs in where you try that.

Past the barb, this will have to be pushed through

Instead, you need to push the hook point back out through the skin, then flatten the barb so it can be withdrawn. I am not going to gloss over it, this nips a bit. But it is never as bad as you think it will be and a little pinch is worth the speed of getting back to the fishing. Holding the hook very firmly, angle it up and push the point back through the skin. Feed the hook through until the barb is clear.

Here, I have pushed the hook back out through the skin and you can see the barb which now can be flattened

That is the hard part past, all you need to do now is flatten the barb on the hook. I always keep a pair of de-barbing pliers at hand so this was only the work of a few seconds to mash the barb down. Yes, I know – I should have done this before I started fishing!!!!

Out it comes!

Pushing the hook back out was easy with the aid of the pliers. Blood dripped from the tiny wound but I soon had that cleaned up and a plaster stuck over the hole. I carry a small first aid kit in the car at all times and I would urge you all to do the same, you never know when a small mishap could require patching up.

handy wee tool

That minor drama over I made my way up river. By the old footbridge there are sometimes a few trout feeding but not today. With no flies hatching the river was dead so I decided to change venue. An hour had elapsed and all I had hooked was myself!

The fateful pool

I didn’t even dismantle the rod, just stuck it in the car as it was and drove a few miles to the stretch I fished last week. I felt way more confident here. The air was warmer and the flow of water, while still fast, looked to be much more manageable. The net had caused me nothing but grief at the last spot. This stretch has never produces a fish of more and a pound-and-a-half to me so I decided to leave it in the car this time (you know this is going to end in tears!). I tied up a new leader and started to fish down through the pools. In this type of water I like to flick out a short line with three flies, taking a step each cast. This allows me to cover a lot of water quickly. A few stoneflies were fluttering about in the air so I tied a size 12 Plover and Hare’s Ear on the bob, and March brown spider in the middle and a flashback Endrick Spider on a curved size 12 hook occupied the tail position.

No takers in the first pool, so I started down the next one. There was a difficult fence to negotiate and as I pushed past the jumble of barbed wire and rocks the line tightened. The reel screamed as the fish made a dash for the tail of the pool and  20 yards were stripped from the reel in a flash. He stopped at the tail of the pool and leapt, clearly a very good fish! I could see the fish had taken the bob fly and he seemed to be well hooked so I gingerly played him back up to me, taking my time and countering his darts and runs. Only as he was tiring I recalled the net was still in the car. When I figured he was played out I reached down but as soon as he felt my touch he turned and shot off, snapping the line. He was gone. I estimate that trout was between two and three pounds!

That’s better!

OK, with nobody else to blame I had to pick up the pieces and try again. Another new leader, three more flies. Back on the water, I repeated the same method of presenting the flies and was rewarded quickly with another firm take. A 12 incher came to hand, swiftly followed by some more, smaller fish. This was better!

a tiddler

Working my way down the river I skipped some of the faster water and concentrated on the slower pools.

lovely pool which gave me some smallish trout today

Trout number 5 stuck me in a weedbed but I managed to prize him out. Number 9 jumped a couple of feet in the air when he felt the hook. By the time I reached the bottom of the stretch I had landed ten wild brownies and lost another 4 or 5.

I did not see a single rise but the fish were feeding near the bottom. With a bit more attention to detail I could have landed a very good fish today but still caught a nice bag of fish. Prospects are good for the next few days!

And the moral of this simple tale is ALWAYS BRING YOUR NET!!!!!!

still there in the back of the car.

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

First day of 2018 season

We all love that feeling of expectation when planning our first fishing trip of the season. Work commitments this year have meant my own plans were constantly being re-jigged as my contract dragged on for much longer than expected. The hoped for early outing for salmon fell victim to the great lord of work. A necessary trip to London then got in the way and I only returned to Ireland from a well-earned holiday in Prague yesterday. But today  was ‘der tag’. Today I was going fishing.

Prague was beautiful, but there was no sign of any trout in the river!

The river Robe today

I mulled over the options as I drove down to Claremorris. Settling on a short stretch I know near the water works, I found a spot to park up just a field away from the river. The first challenge of the day soon became apparent when I pulled my leaky old waders from the bag instead of my nice new ones! This would mean no wading across the river as I usually do. Not to worry, the river is only 5 or 6 yards wide on this stretch so access would not be a huge issue for me. I tackled up and plodded off across the field.

A commotion in a drain caught my eye and further inspection revealed that the local frog population were being frisky.

Frog spawn in a drain

here are the wee critters responsible

Onward to the river and my first casts of the new season. I flicked the flies into the usual spots but there was a noticable lack of fishy interest. No flies were present and the cold air didn’t help matters any. I swapped flies a few times and changed from wets to nymphs. Still no joy.

The local farmer must have been busy as there were lots of new fences around each field. At the bottom of the stretch though I found some damaged fences so I guess he/she has just been making repairs. I spotted a Thrush’s anvil close to a gap in the fence, the end of the line for a lot of snails!

The far bank was pitted with the holes made by our local Crayfish. I’m not sure if these holes are still in use of if they are abandoned once the water level drops, leaving them high and dry.

With still no signs of any fish I took stock of the situation. It was 1.30pm and if there was going to be a hatch of any sort it would have started by now. The only insects I had seen were a couple of tiny midges on the wing. What I needed was some deeper water where I could trundle heavily weighted nymphs on or at least very close to the bottom. All around me were shallow, streamy runs. It was time to move.

Nice fly water but the water here is only a few inches deep

I walked up river until I reached the limit of the water I have previously fished. A deep, heavily fenced drain barred my path so I followed it away from the river to try to find a way across. A startled Snipe exploded from under my feet – they don’t normally let you get that close to them!

I reached an old metal gate which had been rudely lodged in position at a corner of the field. I could see a battery with wires too – were they connected up? Only one way to find out, so I braved touching the cold grey metal – no current thank God.

I hopped over and made my way back towrds the river holding tot he edge of the field all the while. I gained the river and was greeted by more of the accursed barbed wire blocking my way to the water’s edge.

OK, so maybe the wire was not as bad as this!

I changed to a Czech nymph set up (how appropriate) and set about my business. Bumping the bottom, extending the lift, rolling the set up back upstream and repeating again and again.

I worked my wy upstream as the few gaps in the bankside trees allowed me. I seriously doubt if anyone has fished this part of the river for years, it is so remote and hard to access. At the neck of the long pool I was fishing I finally had a take, the line gave a short, shap stabbing motion and I lifted smartly into a trout. Success at last!

I played the fish out, nothing dramatic happened and he was soon ready to be lifted out for a quick photo. A handsome lad, a bit over the pound in weight I’d guess.

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I popped him back into the water and he rushed off, none the worse for our brief meeting. I decided I had enough for the day as there were chores to be done at home. At least I was off the mark and I felt I had done OK given the poor conditions on the day. Let’s hope the weather warms up and the flies begin to hatch.

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Cool start to the season

It is hard to believe the trout season opens on the River Robe tomorrow. We have snow already on the east coast of Ireland and it will spread across the whole country on Thursday. I am still working in Kildare but finish this contract on Friday and plan to battle my way across the country to Mayo that night. I could be on the river as soon as Sunday morning! If it thaws……………………………………..

On the road to work this morning

 

What I am dreaming of

 

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

A beginner’s guide to trouting in Mayo

First I have to say a heart-felt ‘thank you’ to all of you who read my ramblings on this blog. I guess I must infuriate some of you as I roam across a vast swathe of different angling genres, never settling on just salmon fishing or fly tying. I jump around from topic to topic as the fancy takes me, perhaps an insight into my disturbed mind and legendary short attention span. Today I am wandering off down another path, this time to offer some thoughts to those of you who are new to fly fishing for trout and live or are planning on visiting County Mayo.

Nice, streamy water on the Robe at Hollymount

I can still recall my early attempts to catch trout on the fly. The sheer impossibility of hooking and landing one dwarfed all my efforts. There was so much to remember from the books I was reading. So much I had to learn about the fish, what they ate, how to cast, what gear to use. The list was endless and the job in hand assumed Herculean proportions. I honestly believe learning to do anything is so much easier these days, what with the internet and access to all manner of knowledge, but still catching those first trout can be tough for a newcomer. Let’s see if I can help you to cut some corners.

Here is a nice pool with some quicker water which can be accessed from the other bank

  1. This is the golden rule which you must always remember! You can only catch fish if they are there in the first place. Sounds very simple but there is more to this statement than meets the eye. You see wild brown trout inhabit most of the rivers loughs and streams in Mayo but some places have more than others. Let’s take the River Robe as an example. Books and websites galore will tell you that the River Robe is an excellent river for trout fishing. This is a true statement but for the beginner this is simply not precise enough. You could waste hours casting into parts of the Robe which hold very limited stocks of trout while a mile up river there are plenty of the spotty wonders. As a beginner to fly fishing you need to find some streamy water. Avoid smooth, flat water. Avoid very deep, slow moving water. Find some ‘runs’ or ‘riffles’ as we fishermen call them. Why? Because that is the kind of water trout like to feed in. As you gain experience and knowledge you can explore the deep, slow stretches with different methods but for a start stick to streamy runs. To be even more specific, the runs and pools around Hollymount offer some superb trout water for any new angler to hone their skills.

A succession of pools and runs on the Robe, perfect trout water for the beginner

2. Following on from step 1 (and closely related) is know when to go fishing. If I had to choose the best time to start learning to fly fish in Mayo I would plump for April or May, between the hours of 11am and 3pm. Sure, you can catch fish outside those times but here I am talking about giving yourself the best bet of connecting with some trout. The spring months see the water temperature rise which in turn triggers the small water bourn insects to be more active. This increase in food supply awakens the trout and they become much more active. As a general comment the trout are active in the middle of the day early in the season and again towards the end in September. During the summer months the best of the fishing is often in the evening just as the sun sets or again at sunrise. 

a small trout caught one spring day on the Robe

3. OK, so you have sold your soul to get a day off and you are now standing on the bank of the Robe around lunchtime one day in late April. What do you do now? Get you tackle sorted out, and assembled and then have a good look around you. Don’t rush into the river flailing around like a lunatic, take some time to absorb what is going on around you. A lot of people remark on how little time I actually spend fishing as opposed to watching the world around me. This is because I am looking for clues as to the particular dietary requirements of the fish at that time. Trust me, time spent observing the natural world is time well spent. Some things are obvious such a big, splashy rise of a fish or a few mayflys floating down the river. I note the wind direction, strength and its effects of the surface of the river. I look around the banks in case there are insects there which could fall into the river, I look at the level of the water and how that effects potential spots for fish to lie. Is the sun shining on the water, if so are there areas which are shaded? Just take a few minutes to look at the clues which are all around you and then decide what to try first.

An Iron Blue Dun, easy to miss these on the water as they are so small but the trout love ’em!

4. We will continue with this mythical day and let’s presume there are no clues that you can see. The more experienced you become the easier it is to spot the smaller details but we will go along with the idea that there are no flies to be seen, the river is completely quiet with no signs of any fish and the wind/air/sun are all within normal parameters. Now what! No need for despair, you turn to a general pattern to search the water with.When I go trout fishing I bring hundreds of flies with me. I love making flies and then trying them out so I don’t mind my pockets bulging with boxes full of weird and wonderful tyings. As a beginner though this will lead to confusion and reduce your chances of catching trout. For Spring fishing on the Robe all you need for a start is:

Partridge and Orange

Plover and Hare’s ear

Beaded Pheasant tail

Buy (or better still learn to make) some of these three patterns. They will serve you well. All of these are fished wet. You can worry about dry fly fishing once you have mastered the basic with the wet fly.

  1. What about the gear I require? Pretty much any basic fly fishing outfit with a rod between 7 and 10 feet in length, a fly reel to match and a forward tapered floating fly line (the rod will be ‘rated’ for a given line size. Something around AFTM 5 or 6 is a good starting point for beginners). The leader is the fine line attached to the end of the heavy fly line and you want this to end in a piece of nylon of 3 or 4 pounds breaking strain. There are clearer, finer and stronger materials for making leaders out of but stick to nylon for a start, it is much more forgiving of bad casting and other general abuse.

6. How many flies do I tie on my leader? ONE. I will say this again ONE. ONLY FISH WITH ONE FLY UNTIL YOU HAVE GAINED SOME EXPERIENCE. One of the great frustrations of our sport is tangles. We all suffer them but when you are learning you tangle your line a lot. Trying to cast and fish with more than one fly when you are only learning invites a world of hurt. Stick to one fly and the whole process becomes that bit easier.

nice water on the Robe

A nice water on the Robe. I have caught dozens of trout from this run.

7. All ready? Now you can begin casting. Fishing by casting facing upstream is a magical way of catching trout, it is also damn hard to do! So, for the tyro it is better to cast across the current and let the fly swing across and down. You can add some movement to the fly if you want, gently jiggling of the rod may help to fool a fish some believe. Don’t try to cast long lines, on a river like the Robe a 5 yard cast will put your fly over trout. Move slowly downstream, covering the water with successive casts. Relax, enjoy the feeling of the water around your feet, the fresh spring air in your lungs, the birdsong, the gentle rhythm of your casting. Ease yourself into the natural world again.

A beautifully marked trout about to go back

8. Sooner or later it will happen, maybe on the first cast or on the one hundredth. That electrifying tug on the line that signals a trout has snapped at your fly! The chances are you will not hook it. Why am I so pessimistic? You see you fly is winging down the river and the trout is probably facing upstream. When it grabs the fly it normally turns back downstream again. A high proportion of trout hooked when fishing downstream simply tug on the fly without being hooked at all. Don’t be deflated by this minor irritation, keep casting and searching the water for the next lad.

9. Change the fly if you are not having any luck but avoid stopping every 5 minutes to tie on another pattern. Keep a look out for insects on the water, in springtime they can appear suddenly. Sometimes even a small hatch of flies can bring the trout on the feed.

10. When you do hook a trout try not to panic. Remain as calm as possible and guide the fish towards you. Most trout will be between 6 and 10 inches in length and so easy to bring to the hand but some very large trout live in the Robe so if you hook one of these monsters you need to let it run when it wants to start with and only when it begins to tire you can reel it towards you. While the rules and regulations allow you to keep some trout I urge you to release them again. A quick photo and then pop the fish gently back into the water.

The reason I am being so exact in my wording today is that I want you to catch some trout. Failure to catch a fish is common for us all but when you are new to the sport the feeling of that fish on the end of the line is what you yearn for. Success breeds success and you will learn to love your days on the river for more than just the catch, but catching is important at the outset. Spring days on the Robe in Mayo are a wonderful experience for all anglers, but it is a perfect place for beginners to take their first faltering steps towards joining the ranks of us afflicted souls – dedicated trout fishers.

They can’t all be monsters!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, shore fishing, trout fishing

No fishing again!

I was ill today so my plans to fish Lough Conn came to nothing. I’m hoping to feel better soon and to get out for a few hours fishing through the week (work permitting). Here is a very brief up date on the local angling gossip:

Low water here on the Clare river near Tuam

There are a few salmon and early grilse being caught at the Galway weir but not as many as you would think given the low water conditions. The Clare river is down to its bare bones.

Anglers fishing the fly on a shrunken river Corrib at the Galway Weir

 

All the rivers in the area are below summer level and fishing is out of the question on them all. Good pools on the Robe where I normally fish are now ankle deep. The tiny drop of rain we have had over this weekend has not made any difference at all. There is rain forecast for the south of the country overnight but it doesn’t look like we will see any up here.

Lough Conn remains quiet with no hatch of mayfly yet. I am hearing of only the very occasional trout being caught on the fly and no trace of salmon at all. The river Moy is producing a small number of salmon from the bottom of the river up as far as Foxford, but really it is very, very poor this year so far.

The Ridge pool on the Moy at Ballina. Low water suits this beat but the fish are in short supply so far

No mayfly hatch yet on Lough Carra but I heard that Kevin Beirne lost a huge brownie this weekend. Fishing with Pat McHale he hooked a leviathan, estimated to be 8 – 9 pounds in weight. Hard luck Kev!

Moorehall bay on Carra

Early mackerel are in Clew bay so the sea fishing will kick up a gear over the next few weeks.

Killery Harbour, July 09

Mackerel, like these caught on the fly from the shore, will begin to show up from now onwards

Not much to report there, but hopefully we will get some rain soon and the fish will appear.

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Waiting for these guys to hatch!

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